ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota state senators debated whether to allow gay marriage in this Midwestern state, with a vote in favor expected later Monday to send the bill to the Democratic governor for his promised signature.
"With just a few words, we have the ability to bring families across Minnesota into the full sunshine of equality and freedom," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis Democrat.
The measure would grant "civil marriages" to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples starting Aug. 1, making Minnesota the 12th state to legalize gay marriage and the first in the Midwest to pass such a measure out of its legislature. Iowa allows gay weddings due to a 2009 court ruling.
Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the bill and could do it as early as Tuesday.
Crowds of demonstrators flocked to the Capitol in even greater numbers than Thursday, when the House passed the bill by a 75-59 vote.
While supporters and opponents were close to evenly matched last week, Monday was dominated by gay marriage backers. They taped blue and orange hearts on the Capitol steps, creating a path into the building for lawmakers with the signature colors of their movement. In the rotunda, they sang songs including "Over the Rainbow," ''Going to the Chapel" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
At the start of the Senate debate, Republican opponents raised concerns that the bill doesn't go far enough to protect people and organizations with faith-based objections from refusing business related to gay weddings.
"Are we going to have the treads of history roll over people of religious faith?" asked Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
But a majority of senators rejected a Republican amendment to increase the bill's religious protections, as gay marriage supporters argued it would have gutted civil rights protections for gay people.
Outside the Senate chamber, the mood among gay marriage supporters was growing more celebratory. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman ordered the Wabasha Street Bridge near downtown festooned in rainbow-striped gay pride flags to mark the occasion, and temporarily renamed it the "Freedom to Marry Bridge." He also proclaimed it "Freedom to Marry Week" in the capital city.
Micah Thaun Tran, of Golden Valley, has been with his partner for 13 years and said they're planning a fall wedding in Grand Marais along the northern shore of Lake Superior, a small ceremony with friends and family. He was also present for the House vote Thursday and said he couldn't stay away as the final vote was taken.
"Today I just want to be a spectator of history," Tran said. "It is just so validating."
Jeff Moses and his legal husband, John Westerfield-Moses, of Minneapolis, got married in Iowa four years ago and were excited their home state is ready to follow suit. Their anniversary is Aug. 23, a few weeks after a Minnesota law would take effect. They're considering having a marriage ceremony here, too.
"Any excuse for a party," Jeff Moses said.
John Westerfield-Moses said he knew this day would come.
"It was bound to happen," he said. "It was a train that was coming."
Even opponents viewed the bill's passage as inevitable. Don Lee, of Eagan, placed a tombstone on the Capitol lawn with the words "R.I.P. MARRIAGE 2013."
"The legislation being passed today is the end of marriage as we know it in Minnesota," Lee said. "It's a transformation from a forward-looking sacrificial institution to one focused on adult desires. .... People don't realize the damage they are doing. It's a fight against biology."
John Helmberger, head of the main opposition group Minnesotans for Marriage, told those on his side that conventional wisdom about the bill's fate shouldn't be trusted.
"Pray today for God to intervene," he said, addressing a smaller contingent of foes than were in the Capitol days earlier.
Like Thursday, there was a stepped-up security presence. State troopers were posted inside and out, and areas of the building were cordoned off to allow lawmakers to move freely amid the expected throngs.